Kershaw, dealing with command issues, 'going to keep going until he can’t'

September 6th, 2023

MIAMI -- In order for the Dodgers to make a deep run in October, they know they’ll need some strong performances from the starting rotation. Whether it’s fair or not, a big component of that will be just how much is able to give them over the next two months.

Since returning from the IL, however, Kershaw hasn’t looked as sharp as he did at the beginning of the season when he was posting a Cy Young-caliber campaign. Some of those struggles continued on Tuesday as Kershaw walked five batters and gave up three runs over five innings in the Dodgers’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins at loanDepot park.

“It wasn’t great mechanically -- control and all that wasn’t great,” Kershaw said. “So yeah, just need to keep going. There’s really nothing else to do. Just try to pitch better.”

From the first inning it was obvious that Kershaw didn’t have the best command of his pitches and that his velocity was dipping, both of which were issues in his prior start at Dodger Stadium against the D-backs.

Despite the left-hander retiring the side in order in the first, his hardest pitch in the frame was an 89 mph four-seam fastball, which is two mph slower than his season average. In the second, the command -- paired with the dip in velocity -- started to elude him.

Kershaw walked Jesús Sánchez to start the second, then gave up a hard-hit single off the bat of Jake Burger. After giving up a one-out single that loaded the bases, Kershaw, however, showed why he’s a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher, getting Garrett Hampson to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat. In the third, Kershaw walked two more, but escaped again by striking out Josh Bell and Sánchez.

In the fourth, however, Kershaw’s stuff took another dip and the Marlins started to make him pay. Burger led off the frame with a solo homer and was followed by a Jazz Chisholm Jr. infield single and a walk to Hamspon. While Kershaw got out of it with another double-play ball, he wasn’t able to work his way out of trouble in the fifth as a one-out walk turned into two runs on a Bell homer to straightaway center field.

“With Clayton, you certainly see the desire to be effective,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “You certainly see the [desire to] compete. I just think the last couple, you just haven’t seen the command. The stuff might be down. It’s where he’s at right now.”

Where he’s at right now, according to Roberts, is not somewhere anyone wants to hear. Roberts said Kershaw’s injured left shoulder is still not in a place where he can pitch like he normally does. The past few starts have shown that his command isn’t to the level that he has spoiled everyone and the velocity was down across the board, including a concerning 2.7 mph on the four-seam fastball. The hardest pitch thrown from Kershaw on Tuesday was a 89.9 mph four-seamer to Chisholm.

“It’s one of those things where, this is where we’re at,” Roberts said. “Obviously it’s not ideal for him. But we’re going to make the most of it.”

While Roberts said Kershaw’s left shoulder injury could be affecting his command, the left-hander went a different direction. Kershaw repeatedly said he “was fine” when asked about the injury and where he’s at physically at this point in his career and this season. 

“Just a combo really, the stuff and the command. Both bad. Just need to keep working,” Kershaw said. “I’ll talk to [pitching coach Mark Prior on Wednesday], try to see. I think there’s a few thoughts for us that can maybe help.”

Figuring out how to get Kershaw back to his ace form will be the biggest priority for the Dodgers before their postseason run begins in a month. The Dodgers have some question marks in the starting rotation given Bobby Miller’s youth and Lance Lynn’s struggles at times this season. Then there’s Julio Urías, who isn’t with the team and is undergoing an MLB investigation after a second domestic violence claim.

All of that leaves Kershaw as Los Angeles’ best option in October. But right now, the Dodgers will keep starting Kershaw every fifth day with the optimism that he’ll regain his form before this year’s run at a World Series.

“He’s going to keep going,” Roberts said. “He’s going to keep going until he can’t.”